As one of the founding members of Singapore DJ collective Matteblacc, Tirso a.k.a JNR come highly-sought in the international circuit, having warmed up and supported iconic acts like Jurassic 5, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Roy Ayers, Arrested Development and Talib Kweli. The Toronto-born DJ, who was brought up on a diet of New York Garage and Chicago House, now carries a torch for all things soul music, making him one of the most unique sounding DJs in Singapore. Whether it’s at a bar, daytime party at Tanjong Beach Club, or a huge festival, this brand of feel-good music is unmistakably his.
Hi JNR! You’re from Toronto. How did growing up there shape your music preference?
I think it had a huge impact on my musical style. In Toronto as a kid, it was the late 70s and 80s that made an early impression on me. Though I was too young to go in, I used to hangout in the carpark of a roller disco to hear what music was being played during the summer holidays. It was a lot of soul, funk, early rap, electro funk, and freestyle back then. These are elements that you can always hear in my ‘block party-style’ open format sets. In my neighbourhood, there were always some of the older teenagers rocking out the latest tunes on their boom boxes, or someone with a boomin’ car system playing all the latest tunes. Music was everywhere!
Naturally, all the kids in our hood got into breakdancing, and music-wise, we were really into electro funk and freestyle. Soon after, it was all about Run DMC and LL Cool J, EPMD, Kid n Play, Rob Base, and Public Enemy. If it weren’t for the older kids and teens, we’d only be exposed to pop music on the radio. As I grew a little older, I was exposed to new wave and early house sounds of Chicago, New York and Detroit Techno, and in high school it was golden era hip hop and dancehall.
You’re also behind Choice Cut Goods. Care to share more about the place for those not in the know?
Drem and I have been partners since we started our collective, Matteblacc, with Paulsilver in 2012. It was always our mission to not adhere to what the clubs were imposing as the norm for dance music. We put on gigs in gastropubs, cocktail bars, pop-up spaces, and even dive bars. Soon we were working with Adidas and hosting our own music festival and block party series called Summerdaze. But at some point Dre and I realised that we wanted a place to call our own. So it was a natural progression for us to venture into a hybrid concept shop that involved vinyl records, events, coffee and bites, and even apparel retail.
It’s not a huge space, how do you keep the energy up during shows?
Size has nothing to do with creating bigger-than-life experiences. Whether it’s just a handful or people or if we are bursting at the seams, it really comes down to working with talented artists who come to do what they do best. And when they’re having the time of their life, so do our patrons. It’s not about keeping the energy “up”, but keeping the energy positive.
We hear the coffee is amazing as well. What’s your go-to?
I can’t speak for everyone as it’s a very subjective topic. I’m just glad some people like it and talk fondly about it. My go-to is our flat white or chai latte.
More from the younger generation are into vinyl records nowadays. What genre in particular is popular?
Rare Asian funky sounds and jazz. Jazz is making a huge come back especially with all the buzz about contemporary artists.
What’s a really cool one you got hold of lately?
I’m really into afrobeat and afro house. Jeff Mills and Tony Allen put out this collaborative record on Decca Records, an EP called Tomorrow Comes The Harvest, so it’s something I was very eager to listen to. And it delivered exactly what I expected: quality.
Matteblacc is pretty synonymous with hip-hop. What’s different about the hip-hop you guys used to play and now?
To keep things fresh rather than play mumble trap, we look for breakout artists with great production and lyricism. We’re scouring Bandcamp instead of mainstream outlets to unearth them. But all in all, we try to keep it real school.
How do you personally put a unique spin on your music?
I try to put my mixes in context. Something connects the entire theme, era, vibe, word play, and mood. Sometimes I’m taking you through a time warp of music that I came up with. Sometimes, there’s a story I’m trying to tell beneath the infectious rhythms, that just make you want to dance.
Describe your mix for us!
This mix is inspired by my first trip to Notting Hill Carnival this past August. I was hanging out with my mate Jstar at the Roots stage and venturing into soca, afro beat, and even grimed up ragga vibes, and I’ve taken these influences and fused it with my afro house vibes. You’ll hear my remix of Masia1’s On Na Na, as well as a few re-edits that I made. Hope you enjoy it!